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Research suggests ways to protect children in high-conflict separations

For parents in Salt Lake County, Utah, who are going through a separation, doing what is best for the children is usually a top concern. That can feel especially difficult, though, in a high-conflict divorce where parents disagree on everything from custody arrangements to legal decisions.

Although almost all parents notice the strain that conflict puts on them, some parents don't realize how harmful it can be for children. Fortunately, research over the last several years has addressed when conflict is harmful to children, when it is less damaging and how parents can work to alleviate it.

Whether both parents stay involved matters

Studies suggest that the effect a high-conflict dynamic between parents has on children depends on whether both parents actively remain involved in parenting. A Psychology Today article summarizes the relevant findings from various studies, which indicate that the involvement of both parents has benefits that are not erased by the presence of conflict.

However, when children primarily stay with one parent, they don't enjoy the protection that comes from being close with each parent. Conflict between parents has a more harmful effect on these children. In other words, when possible, parents should attempt to find an arrangement that allows both of them to stay involved and sustain a strong relationship with the child.

Parents undergoing a highly contested divorce may think it would be easier on the family as a whole to minimize interaction and the ensuing fights. However, sharing involvement offers many benefits for the children. Besides, there are a few steps that parents can take to reduce their arguing.

De-escalating conflict isn't impossible

There are a few ways that parents can avoid conflict. One is to strategically limit personal encounters. Psychology Today reports that children who switch frequently between homes are typically exposed to more conflict compared to children who spend longer stretches at each home. If parents can find a working arrangement where the child stays with each parent for a longer duration, parents can limit interactions and potential for conflict.

For seemingly inevitable fights that center on the child's upbringing and well-being, the Huffington Post recommends that parents avoid the following mistakes:

  • Putting personal beliefs, wants or preferences before whatever is actually in the best interests of the child
  • Refusing to make exceptions to accommodate the child or the other parent
  • Intruding on the rights of the other parent
  • Looking down on things done differently in the other household

Conflict is inevitable in most relationships and likely to come up between two people who have made the decision to separate. This is unfortunate, but since children who stay connected to both parents are less affected by fighting, a high-conflict relationship isn't necessarily reason to give up on working out a co-parenting arrangement.

Any parent who is facing a divorce should speak to an experienced attorney. An attorney can help ensure that a parent's rights are protected and that the most beneficial arrangement is found.

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